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Scientist Ways

The problem with writing is that there's not much money in it. - Cheryl Tiegs [Cohen and Cohen 1992:367]

Why write papers? Purposes may intertwine. Four facets may be found:

  • Story-telling - relating events in time-ordered sequence and expose their significance.
  • Describe something and try to organise it in meaningful patterns and convey this in words.
  • Expose - explain how some things appear to work or why some things appear to happen.
  • Seeking support - on the basis of evidence, argument, and whatever.

One may detect all these purposes in one piece of writing, asserts Helen Hamilton (Clare and Hamilton, 2004, 34). One may also see the purposes build on each other from telling of events (on top of the list) to seeking support (last item).

Much depends on money today, and in research too. And wealth inequality around the world is "out of control". The wealth gap is widening. The world's top 26 billionaires control as much wealth as poorest half of humanity (Oxfam, 22. January 2019). Making taxes fairer may help address many ills, of course. But the trends are not good for most people. For example, Oxfam found that the richest 1% took in 82% of wealth created in 2017. [◦Estimates with caveats]

Money is not everything in a life, but determines a lot. As long as there is not subordination to the souces of funding, the research may be all right. It is also tolerable and scholarly to study things and find out of them on one's own. Qualifications can be built along that road. Skills are into research and studies too, and into communicating one's findings.

A fit paper is to provide a good range of answers and more to these: "Who, what, where, how, when and why - the six interrogative pronouns. Additions to them include "qui bono?", who benefits, in what ways? And where does the funding go? Is the research really independent enough to avoid biases and promotional interests? Independent research is the fine thing to reach and keep. Paid research often comes with strings, or ties or hush-hush influences -

Parts of a "research enterprise" involve getting money to fund it. Conclusions in papers, like "The evidence so far is inconclusive" and "More research is needed to answer that" in scientific theses and papers could very well be attuned to that. One may take to heart that "Work expands and feeds the growth of bureaucracy" unless one is very, very careful.

Another aspect of these matters is that research for most part tends to "look downwards" and not investigate upwards to where the benefits accrue. Established people of upper classes tend to protect themselves.

There is also a need for researchers to fit in, get accepted, so many a stride is of the conform kind. A need to be diplomatic may stand out.

Simple ground rules abound

Who do all the manuals that are written for students help? The establishment, its bureaucracy, and perhaps the "major players" among the publishers. Even if there may not be much money in such books for the writers, there are other benefits beckoning. Strengthening one's position, job promotions and further. One may suspect a lot, but better inspect a lot. Still better: let other have the trouble and go to solid findings, evaluating some of them.

Now to fair and square, convenient or basic research: Providing guidelines for solving problems of style, F. P. Woodford suggests these principles in O'Connor and Woodford (1978:44)

  • Be simple and concise.
  • Make sure of the meaning of every word.
  • Use verbs instead of abstract nouns.
  • Break up noun clusters and stacked modifiers (that is, strings of adjectives and nouns, with no clues as to what modifies what).

Keep everything straightforward and readers will be grateful. (O'Connor and Woodford 1978:44)

"Do not . . . studiously avoid repeating a word in a sentence. Good English stylists prefer repetition to "elegant variation" . . . because the real meaning can easily be distorted by a badly chosen synonym." (O'Connor and Woodford 1978:44)

If you write short, simple sentences you can avoid most pitfalls.

Punctuate according to the rules of English usage you are aware of.

You should make your meaning unambiguous unless you aim for something else specifically.

Get help from friends. They may assist you in clarifying meanings eventually.

(All this is based on sensible counsel in O'Connor and Woodford [1978:44-45]).

For literary research, seven steps are elaborated on by W. R. Owens:

  • Decide on a topic
  • Check availability of material
  • Turn a topic into an argument
  • Work out a structure
  • Prepare a research proposal
  • Write your dissertation
  • Presenting your dissertation

If the steps seem simplistic, an expression, "Governing (is) in the Detail(s)" serves to remind one that details are many and add up to being important, and could take more time and effort to complete than expected. (Eliot and Owens 2005, 170-80)


A Paper Writer's Steps

There can be much of value in older books too. Some of these steps from O'Connor and Woodford (1978:80-81) may suit many still, as well shaped, basic "recipes" of ingredients and "how to prepare them" - the steps of processing, or making such "dishes" - can remain with us for generations, although with room for variations:

  1. Assess your work: decide what, when, and where to publish. Define your purpose in writing and form a working title if you can
  2. Be in line with the style manual that fits in or is accepted. Learn the Instructions to Authors of the journal chosen
  3. Draft an abstract
  4. Decide on the basic form of the paper (adjust well).
  5. Collect the material under the major headings chosen
  6. Design tables, including their titles and footnotes; design or select illustrations and write titles and legends for them
  7. (Write for permission to reproduce any previously published tables, illustrations or other material that will be used)
  8. Write a topic outline and perhaps a sentence outline
  9. Write, type or dictate a preliminary draft of the text rather quickly, to give it unity
  10. Check completeness of the references assembled
  11. Put the manuscript or typescript away for a few days
  12. Re-examine the structure of the paper
  13. Check the illustrations and tables and make the final versions Re-read the references you cite and check your own accuracy in citing them; check for consistency, and reduce the number of abbreviations and footnotes
  14. (Re)type the paper (= first draft)
  15. Correct the grammar and polish the style
  16. Type several copies of the corrected paper (= second draft)
  17. Ask for criticism from co-authors and friends. Make as many adjustments and alterations as called for and needed
  18. Compose a new title and abstract suitable for information retrieval, list the possible index terms and assemble the manuscript
  19. Compile the reference list, cross-check references against the text, and ensure that all bibliographical details are correct
  20. Retype (= penultimate version) and check typescript
  21. Obtain a final critical review from a senior colleague
  22. Make any final corrections (final version)
  23. Write a covering letter to the editor, enclosing copies of letters giving you permission to reproduce any previously published material or to cite unpublished work
  24. Check that all parts of the paper are present, and post as many copies as specified to the editor
  25. If the editor returns the paper, revise it as necessary, send it elsewhere, or abandon it (for a time).
  26. Correct the proofs


Structure a paper, organise writing, academic self-lifting, Literature  

Barrass, Robert. Scientists Must Write: A Guide to Better Writing for Scientists, Engineers and Students. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002.

Clare, Judith, and Helen Hamilton. 2004. Writing Research: Transforming Data into Text. Reprint ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.

Eliot, Simon, and W. R. Owens. 2005. A Handbook to Literary Research. London: The Open University /Routledge.

Howe, Stephen, and Kristina Henriksson. Phrase Book for Writing Papers and Research in English. 4th ed. Cambridge, UK: The Whole World Company Press.

Kerlinger, Fred, and Howard B. Lee. Foundations of Behavioral Research. 4. utg. London: Thomson Learning, 2000.

Lester, James D., and James D. Lester Jr. 2015. Writing Research Papers: A Complete Guide. 15h ed. Harlow, Essex: Pearson.

The Modern Language Association. 2009. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 7th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association.

O'Connor, M., and F. Woodford. Writing Scientific Papers in English. London: Pitman Medical, 1978.

Wallwork, Adrian. 2011. English for Writing Research Papers. London: Springer.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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